Martin Sloman states that todays economy has become knowledge-driven and service- led. As a result, in order for organisations to have the competitive advantage they must compete through their people (Aguinis & Kraiger, 2009). Employees (HR) are the most valued asset of any organisation. Their development and growth is essential in creating a conductive working environment (Navaneethalkumar & Sivalivmar, 2012). In order for HR to develop successfully, the organisation must create a working environment in which its employees can acquire continuous knowledge and fully develop their skills sets and abilities (Navaneethalkumar & Sivalivmar, 2012). Training is one of the most widespread methods for accomplishing this (Arthur & Bennett, 2003).
The systematic training cycle
The STC is one of the most commonly acknowledged training models that has influenced training since the 1960’s (Sloman, 2010). It is comprised of 4 main stages, namely Training Needs Analysis (TNA), Planning/ Design of training, Delivery of training and the evaluation of training outcomes (Armstrong, 2001). Elements of the STC have been developed from work undertaken in the US by military instructional systems design programs (Sloman,1999). In the UK , the STC captured the need for increasing concern for rationality and efficiency under the competitive pressures of that time (Sloman, 1999). This circular model offers a systematic and planned approach to training (Goldstein & Ford, 2002). It introduces a link from evaluation to further identification of training needs (Sloman, 1999). It therefore describes training as a continuous process made up of feedback loops.
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Theoretically speaking, the STC is a very useful concept. It grounds the trainer’s attention on the need to act in a structured and disciplined manner (Blanchard & Thacker, 2007). It also simultaneously stresses the place of effective analysis of training and the benefits that it can bring to other parts of the training cycle (Sloman, 1999). Yet, this model is not without its critics.
Some academics (e.g. Sloman, 2010 & (Holten, et al., 2000)) refer to this model as an outdated model. If taken literally operating the STC would send trainers round in circles rather than looking at the broader context in which an organisation operates (Sloman, 2010). STC can be viewed as an over-simplified concept that doesn’t account for the complex reality that organisations function in (Taylor, et al., 1991). Seeing as this model has seen little-to-no development since its conceptualisation over 40 years ago (Aguinis & Kraiger, 2009), and organisations have undergone drastic changes, is it still applicable? Many academics fear that this model has become out dated and to a certain extent, obsolete (Aguinis & Kraiger, 2009).
The STC sees the trainer at the centre of the training process rather than one of a number of stakeholders involved in managing interventions to promote learning (Van Eerde, et al., 2008). In modern contexts, training is seen as ‘trainee centric’ and organisations aim to introduce a learning culture within their organisations where employees are responsible for their own training and development (Arthur & Bennett, 2003).
The new context in which the training and development profession operates demands a new mind-set (Sloman, 2010). Trainers are required to acquire an understanding of the economic drivers and context, the need to be pragmatic and reject inappropriate or obsolete models. A new skill set is also required, trainers are expected to understand advantages and limitations of each of the various interventions or processes and be able to initiate and operate them effectively (Slomon, 2010).
Training needs analysis (TNA)
For the purpose of this essay TNA will be taken to mean the process of systematically gathering, assessing and analysing data to determine the training needs of an organisation (Reed & Vakola, 2006), i.e. identification of the training gap (Blanchard & Thacker, 2007). The importance of TNA prior to conducting training has been emphasized by many writers (Goldstein & Ford, 2002). Comprehensive TNA may be used to determine what caused performance to be less than expected or required and how problems can be met or addressed by training (Blanchard & Thacker, 2007).
TNA has been described as an integral part of any well-designed training program, as it allows for the rational justification of implementing a training program (Moore & Dutton, 1978). It is important to use TNA to link training to relevant results (Taylor, et al., 1998). TNA is the most crucial time for establishing links between training and results because initial decisions are made concerning what training will be provided in organisations. Establishment of training needs influences how training will be developed, delivered and evaluated (Goldstein & Gressner, 1993).
The Organisation-Task- Person analysis model (OTP)
Despite its presumed importance, over the past 40 years development of TNA theory has become somewhat stagnant. The OTP model has dominated training literature for years (Reed & Vakola, 2006). The OTP model has remained relatively unchanged since McGehee and Thayer introduced it in 1961. Many reviews of TNA have continued to discuss needs analysis in terms of this framework (Reed & Vakola, 2006). This model is comprised of 3 levels of analysis namely, organisational analysis, job/task analysis and personal analysis (McGehee & Thayer, 1961).
Organisational analysis focuses on where in the organisation training would be utilised (O’Driscoll & Taylor, 1992) .It outlines system wide components of organisations that may affect delivery of a training program (O’Driscoll & Taylor, 1992). It is used to develop congruence between training objectives and organisational goals, resources and constraints (O’Driscoll & Taylor, 1992). Many training programs fail to reach goals because their training goals do not match their organisational context and goals (Salas & Cannon-Bowers, 2001). Goldstein & Ford (2002) stated that the identification of system-wide issues, climate for training within organisations, availability of training resources and external pressures (e.g. economical legal political and social) is essential in organisational analysis (Goldstein & Ford, 2002)
Job/task analysis is used to identify information necessary to create learning objectives. It results in a detailed description of the work functions to be performed on the job. (Salas & Cannon-Bowers, 2001). This level of analysis entails setting performance standards or criteria, describing tasks to be completed, deriving optimal procedures for performing those tasks and specifying the requisite knowledge and skills for task performance (O’Driscoll & Taylor, 1992) the final level of TNA is Person analysis. This analysis serves to identify the personnel who need training through the use of performance appraisals and proficiency testing (Goldstein & Ford, 2002).
TNA has barely progressed farther than the expansion, formalization and creation of specific techniques for the collection of data useful in need determination (Moore & Dutton, 1978) . Despite the apparently widespread agreement that an exhaustive TNA should reinforce all training plans, the literature also acknowledges that it does not often take place in organisations as often as it should (Reed & Vakola, 2006). Could it be that organisations are utilising other means of analysis? Or do organisations feel there is no need for TNA? Is TNA always possible?
The Theory-Practice divide- Who is responsible for TNA?
From reviewing the literature regarding TNA, it is easy to see that there is a large divide between theory and practice. Academic scholars and avid supporters of the OTP model of TNA follow a highly trainer centric/ driven approach (Sloman, 2010). Yet in reality, training needs analysis rarely follows the OTP model (Sels, 2002). Organisations commonly adhere to an informal ad hoc and less systematic approach to training (Sels, 2002). Instead of reviewing the old OTP model, research should try to bridge the gap between what researchers recommend and what is actually practiced? Organisations have changed drastically over the past 40 years; research should catch up with this change.
Laird (2003) has described how training practitioners are increasingly becoming overly client/ service focused and maintain the ethos that the client is always right. This client (Managers, CEOs etc.) often has a preconceived notion of what the training needs are (Laird, 2003). These perceptions are not always accurately identified. In reality the client is rarely completely right (Larid,2003). Thus following client’s recommendations do not always allow for a permanent fix and end result is ineffective and sometimes unethical practices are perpetuated and supported by training and development specialists.
Individuals with little experience in training can easily assume the role of training practitioner/ expert within an organisation (Sels, 2002). Without proper training, TNA is unlikely to be carried out adequately (Sels, 2002). To a certain extent, deciding on whether TNA is a forgotten concept or not is influenced by deciding on who is responsible for carrying out the TNA. As mentioned earlier the systematic training cycle theory assumes a primary contribution from training specialists in determining specific TNA yet, in many organisations ost people who initiate possibility of training are the CEO or managers (O’Driscoll & Taylor, 1992). Thus the practitioner’s role is limited to implementing training decided on by others (O’Driscoll & Taylor, 1992).
TNA in organisations.
As discussed above, studies show that organisations make use of more informal ad hoc approaches to TNA (O’Driscoll & Taylor, 1992) .However, it would be incorrect to assume that organisations do away with the entire TNA, organisations still use some parts of the original OTP model to carry out some form of needs analysis. Whilst,organisational analysis is rarely taken as a basis for TNA, many organisations use task analysis (Holten, et al., 2000). This type of analysis is the most widespread level of needs analysis among training companies,in fact most companies base TNA solely on analysis of job content (Holten, et al., 2000).
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OTP remains the dominant model of TNA in academic literature about training. On the other hand, an increasing amount of organisations are adopting the Performance appraisal model (Herbert & Doverspike, 1990). This model is used to determine who is and who isn’t performing properly. The performance appraisal model is made up of two levels of analysis (Herbert & Doverspike, 1990). The first level attempts to identify unsuccessful or successful individuals, this is known as the performance summary. The second level, the diagnostic performance appraisal determines why results of individual employee behaviour occurs (Herbert & Doverspike, 1990). Data derived from performance appraisal may still provide adequate information to establish the training gap/needs and support the overall training cycle.
One problem with the performance appraisal method of needs analysis is that it solely focuses on identifying and determining the causes of discrepancies between expected performance and actual performance (Herbert & Doverspike, 1990). This means that training can only be indicated when a deficiency in performance is present. It excludes training opportunities for continuously improving performance beyond expected levels. In contemporary organisations, developing a learning culture is highly beneficial. Only focusing on performance discrepancies does not allow for this. In a learning organisation employees will be able to acquire skills and knowledge beyond their specific job requirements. This allows them to be highly flexible and able to move freely within the organisation. It also ensures that the organisation and its employees will be able to strive in the current unstable and changing work environment.
Holten et. al (2000) described how many organisations make use of a ‘felt needs’ approach to TNA. This approach calls for employees to list the training they feel they need or would like to apply. This isn’t necessary always effective because individuals tend to focus on training ‘wants’ rather than training ‘needs’ (Holten, et al., 2000). Training wants may lead to training in unnecessary areas which results it time-wasting and unnecessary costs for the company (Novack, 1991) . However, allowing for self-assessment may enhance both motivation to train and transfer of training back on jobs (Clarke, 2003) thus it may be more beneficial for an organisation to move away from Systematic TNA and towards an approach that is more trainee-centric.
Unfortunately in some organisations rather than being forgotten, comprehensive TNA is simply not possible or feasible. Research shows that small organisations are unable to carry out TNA due to lack of financial and human resources (Arthur & Bennett, 2003). So, instead of not carrying out any training, the organisation opts to carryout training based on top managers opinions (Arthur & Bennett, 2003). This informal means of TNA can still have some form of benefit to the organisation. Due to the small size of the organisation, it’s managers are in close proximity to the employees (potential trainees) and are able to observe and understand first-hand what the training needs may be (Van Eerde, et al., 2008). They are thus able to have an actual and true idea about the training needs of their staff that can be used to provide information for appropriate training to be developed (Van Eerde, et al., 2008).
The new organisational context
One of the most salient issues with TNA is its lack of further development over the past forty years. TNA model intends to be applied to organisations that are nothing like they were forty years ago. The training cycle assumes a top down approach to training (Reed & Vakola, 2006). In this approach, HR representatives, executives and other senior managers within an organization define the content, structure and objectives of training programs. In reality, modern organisations are becoming increasingly flatter and less hierarchical (Aguinis & Kraiger, 2009). In order to maintain the strategic competitive advantage they are also instilling a learning culture within the organisation where individuals are more involved in training, learning and development processes (Sloman,2010). Could traditional TNA models have become obsolete?
TNA is not explicitly linked with other organisational activities (Gould, 2003). So, organisations are less likely to realise its value and importance within an organisation, let alone the training cycle.
Recently, research has begun to show that the need for TNA data is becoming increasingly useful to organisations due to the acceptance of the organisational development. The OD concept requires behavioural data about employee functioning at different organisational levels. Therefore TNA use maybe expected to increase its importance to overall organisational functioning and analysis has increased (Moore & Dutton, 1978). By linking TNA to other aspects of the organisation use of TNA will increase.
The bulk of TNA literature only gives a fleeting reference to aspects of organisational change (Reed & Vakola, 2006). TNA comes across as a somewhat reactive approach to change and development. In todays’ highly competitive and unstable economy in order for an organisation to strive, it must be proactive (Sloman, 2010). Thus it could be argued that traditional TNA is no longer adequate in our present environment in which the nature of jobs and competences are highly subject to continual change (Reed & Vakola, 2006). It is important for the development of the needs analysis process to be approached as a change management process (Reed & Vakola, 2006). The needs analysis process should be linked with existing organisational processes. This in turn will lead to the success of the process and created a strategic dimension.
In practice TNA progresses rather slowly, as conducting needs analysis is very time consuming (Gould, 2003). In some cases TNA takes so long that the training intervention developed from the analysis may end up being out of date (Gould, 2003). Such is the case in medical and technological industries (Gould, 2003). For this reason organisations may be required to undertake other less time-consuming and more informal types of needs analysis. For example some organisations focus on creating a less rigorous job profile rather than an exhaustive task/job analysis (Novack, 1991).
Modern organisations are attempting to become more proactive to change and training (Reed & Vakola, 2006). The TNA model is a rather reactive model. This could be one of the reasons why the model is considered to have become ineffective and not useful in proactive organisations. In fact, research suggests that adopting competency models is the way forward (Maurer et al., 2003). Competency modelling does not focus on specific knowledge, skills or abilities for a given job but it focuses on developing specific/desired competencies required of all employees within the organisation to gain the competitive advantage (Maurer et al., 2003).
The use of competency modelling is also closely related to issues over whether an organisation should focus on training or learning (Maurer et al., 2003). In a learning organisation, the motivation of the learning is central to the learning process (learning takes place within the domains of the learner) (Sloman, 2010). Learning is highly linked and associated with the organisational context. Learning motivation is critical as it instils an initiative and incentive within the learner to learn. Increasing this motivation could lead to increased positive and effective training outcomes (Sloman ,2010). Instead of following the outdated TNA, organisations should begin following a Learning and Development analysis model AS this will allow for the broadening of the focus of training and development in organisations beyond traditional ideas about training (Gould, 2003).
Goldstein and Ford (2002) offer a fitting analogy of training and TNA. If a person is sick they go to the doctor. The doctor then carries out tests ( such as t rays, blood tests etc) in order to make a diagnosis. Once a diagnosis is made the doctor comes up with a treatment plan that is suitable for their patient. The same can be applied for training. Whether traditional TNA is a forgotten part of the training cycle is highly debatable, so much so that even the value of the whole training cycle is debatable. What is not debatable is the importance of understanding the needs of individuals and how they fit in to the organisation and its larger context.
Old traditional models of TNA seem to have become outdated and obsolete, but organisations are still carrying out some form training analysis before implementing training. There is a need for training needs analysis theory to be rejuvenated and thus be a reflection of the current organisation contexts. To tie into the analogy of medicine, doctors are constantly making use of new and improved methods of diagnosing patients. Maybe training needs analysis research should follow suit?
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